Authorities Finally Know Why Human Feet Keep Washing Up on the Pacific Northwest Coast

By: Lauren | Last updated: Nov 19, 2023

More and more shoes filled with human remains have washed up on the Pacific Northwest coast, specifically along the shores of the Salish Sea.

And while this gruesome story has certainly made headlines in the news and on social media, the reality of the feet-filled shoes is not quite as horrific as it sounds.

More Than a Dozen Shoes with Human Remains Have Been Found

The interest surrounding the odd shoe phenomenon in the Pacific Northwest has existed for years.


Source: YouTube

So far, fourteen shoes with human remains have been found in a very small area along the shores of the Salish Sea, which spans from Olympia, Washington, to the Campbell River in British Columbia and includes the Puget Sound and Strait of Georgia.


What About the Salish Sea Attracts So Many Remain-Filled Shoes?

One question on everyone’s mind is why so many shoes have washed up in this specific location.


Source: NASA

The Salish Sea is certainly a large bay, at almost 700 square miles, but fourteen shoes with feet still inside is still a lot of human remains to be found in any one area. However, according to experts, it’s not actually that surprising considering the natural layout of the sea and the population of its coastlines.

Population, Wind, and Rising Water Temperatures Are All to Blame

The first factor is simply population. With 8.7 million people living in the area, statistically, the Salish Sea is home to many corpses of people who either drowned or used the cold waters to commit suicide.


Source: Wikipedia

The second factor is weather. Strong winds in the area create currents that push trash and human remains towards the shores. The rising water temperatures in the Pacific Northwest are expediting this process since heavier items move to the surface.

Who Do the Shoes Belong To?

Why the shoes arrive on the shores is a big question, but who the shoes belonged to is even more pressing.


Source: Imgur

The latest shoe with human remains is said to have belonged to a man missing from the area since 2016. The British Columbia Coroners Service has worked tirelessly to identify the rest, though they have only been able to correctly connect eight of the fourteen shoes with six presumed deceased individuals.

Remains Have Been Hard to Identify

Finding out exactly who the shoes and the feet inside them belonged to has proven extremely challenging for local authorities.

Source: YouTube

Because the feet have been submerged in salt water for extended periods of time, the DNA is frequently too damaged for testing. In addition, because many of the missing persons were not criminals, their DNA is not on record and there is no way to cross reference the minimal samples collected.


Strange Research Conducted to Understand How Corpses Decompose in the Ocean

To better understand how long human bodies take to decompose in salt water, a study in 2016 in the Salish Sea used pig corpses to establish more realistic timelines, and it revealed a lot.

Source: Adobe

And while previous information stated that a human body could remain intact under the ocean’s surface for weeks or even months, this study proved that a corpse could become a skeleton in a mere four days.


The Serial Killer Theory Dismissed by Experts

Over the past few years as the shoe count increased steadily, many wondered if there was a serial killer in the area who specifically discarded shoes with feet still in them in the Salish Sea.

Source: YouTube

However, authorities have made it exceptionally clear that they have dismissed this theory and believe that there was no foul play involved regarding the six people’s shoes they have been able to identify.


Shoes With Remains Aren’t Found Exclusively Along Salish Sea

It’s important to note that while the Salish Sea has seen an unusual number of shoes with human remains on its shores, it is not the only place where this has occurred.

Source: Getty Images

Severed feet inside lonely shoes have also been found on the Willamette River in Oregon, in Charleston, South Carolina, and on the banks of the Mississippi River in Missouri. And authorities in New York City are forced to fish for corpses around Manhattan every spring as the warm weather pushes them toward the shores.


The Logical Answer to Why Only Feet Are Found

Although finding a severed foot in a shoe sounds incredibly strange, there is actually a very logical reason as to why this occurs so often. Essentially, corpses submerged in water naturally separate at the joints.

Source: Reddit

Co-director of the Center for Forensic Research at Simon Fraser University Gail Anderson explained, “Feet easily disarticulate and when they are attached to a flotation device such as a running shoe, they are easily washed ashore.” He continued, “Notice there are no feet washing ashore in stiletto heels or flip-flops. Also, today’s running shoes are much more buoyant than in the past.”


Police Ask for Missing Persons Reports to Now Include Shoe Size

Previously, police who investigate missing persons in the United States or Canada haven’t always asked for the person’s shoe size. However, because of this phenomenon, that tactic is being adjusted.

Source: Kiran Ridley/Getty Images

Now, when beachgoes see shoes wash up along the Salish Sea, and inevitably investigate to see if it’s yet another with human remains inside, the police will be able to narrow down whose foot they found more efficiently.


The Washed-Up Shoe Phenomenon Isn’t Really a Mystery Anymore

Although people are certainly still interested in this strange phenomenon, it’s not quite the mystery that it once was.

Source: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

According to the extensive research collected about corpse decomposing in the ocean, as well as the winds in the Pacific Northwest, warming waters, and the growing population along the coast, the human remains-filled shoes are not that surprising. In fact, Salish Sea beach goers can expect them to continue to wash up from time-to-time.